Reading Journal April 25-28

April 28, 2pm

I finished 2 books since my last update- Hawke, by Ted Bell, and Assassin’s Apprentice, by Robin Hobb. Both are the first book in their respective series. I don’t know if I have the second book in the trilogy Assassin’s Apprentice belongs to, though, and I know I don’t have the next 2 Hawke series books, because the library only had books 1 and 4. So, I plan to read the rest of both series, but I won’t be starting the next booth in either this weekend.

Hawke was not as engaging as Clive Cussler’s books, though his male characters are just about as sexist and annoying. He also includes a few token strong female characters, though, as Cussler always does, and of course both strong female characters are in love with Alex Hawke, who is a black haired version of Dirk Pitt.  The writing in this first book was also a bit annoying; a decent editor might have told Mr. Bell to trust his readers more to make connections and understand scenes, rather than spelling everything out too much. I’m sure the rough drafts were far worse, and many young writers make the same mistake, so despite these annoying features, I am planning to read more of the series. Early Cussler novels weren’t much better, after all, and Stephen King’s first novel was really rough.

Assassin’s Apprentice was good. It is a fantasy novel set in a world where some people have the innate ability to ‘Skill’, which seems a bit like some of the powers Sanderson puts in his books, or maybe a bit like the One Power in the Wheel of Time, in that people who have the special powers are distrusted or feared by others, and as a result few people have any clue what the powers actually are or what they are actually capable of. I am not convinced in this first book that Hobb knew much about her characters’ powers, either, and this muddledness about what Skill and its seeming cousin Wit are makes some of the story a bit less compelling too. But by the end of the book, it is starting to feel like a fantasy with some sort of ‘magic’, rather than just a feudal drama set in a bunch of tiny coastal kingdoms.

I would be imagining the duchies and kingdoms as similar in size and scope to Scotland, England or Wales, relatively small sections of what to me seems a small landmass, and the coastal raids in this book certainly were inspired by the raiders who attacked the shores of what is now Great Britain and Ireland. But the ecology of the desert and mountain areas seems to require a much bigger landmass. Sure, it’s fantasy fiction, but I expect the world in any significant fantasy series to make some sense. But, this is just the first book, so maybe it all makes sense eventually.

Bleachers, by John Grisham. Start page: 5

The Curious Facts Preceding My Execution, by Donald E. Westlake.  Start page: 15

A Brief History of Seven Killings, by Marlon James. Start page: 25

Assassin’s Apprentice, by Robin Hobb. FINISHED

The Pier Falls and other stories, by Mark Haddon. Start page: 21

Hawke, by Ted Bell. FINISHED

Pastoral, by Nevil Shute. Start page: 34

Chasm City, by Alastair Reynolds. Start page: 187

April 27, 10:30pm

Since my last update, I finished Fifth Grave Past the Light, by Darynda Jones. It was a book I won through a Goodreads giveaway, so my stack of books I won and ought to read and review is slightly shorter. (Yay!) If you like romance novels but also like urban fantasy, you’ll like this book. I had a hard time casting the main character, Charley, partly because I had a dog named Charley growing up, and had a hard time attaching that name to the main character. I cast her boyfriend Reyes as one of the guys who played a character on several NCIS episodes, initially as a Marine who was supposed to be getting a medal except that he turned out to be on experimental steroids. And Charley’s best friend in my mind was played by the lady who plays Penelope in Criminal Minds. I am still not much of a romance reader, but I enjoyed this one. I sort-of skimmed the sex scenes, I’ll admit, but they were not quite as cliche-laden as most sex scenes I’ve encountered.

Currently reading:

Bleachers, by John Grisham. Start page: 1

The Curious Facts Preceding My Execution, by Donald E. Westlake.  Start page: 15

A Brief History of Seven Killings, by Marlon James. Start page: 25

Assassin’s Apprentice, by Robin Hobb. Start page: 205

The Pier Falls and other stories, by Mark Haddon. Start page: 21

Hawke, by Ted Bell. Start page: 315

Pastoral, by Nevil Shute. Start page: 1

Chasm City, by Alastair Reynolds. Start page: 187

 

April 25, 8pm

Here is what I am currently reading. I’m playing with log formats leading up to the spring Dewey’s 24hr Readathon which is this weekend. I already post weekly photos of the TBR stack I picked out for the week and I try to pull books only from that stack when I start a new book. But, I could definitely do better about keeping a log or reading journal, and reviewing more of the books I read. So, here’s what I am reading so far tonight.

Books:

The Curious Facts Preceding My Execution, by Donald E. Westlake.  Start page: 1

A Brief History of Seven Killings, by Marlon James. Start page: 25

Assassin’s Apprentice, by Robin Hobb. Start page: 205

The Pier Falls and other stories, by Mark Haddon. Start page: 21

Hawke, by Ted Bell. Start page: 75

Fifth Grave Past the Light, by Darynda Jones. Start page: 118

Chasm City, by Alastair Reynolds. Start page: 180

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My Responses to Trump’s Media Survey

President Trump and his party have released an online survey about the media. It is very slanted in the way its questions are formulated, and does its best to lead respondents to criticisms of the media that will justify Trump’s anti-media stance. As a propaganda piece this survey is interesting enough. What the administration plans to do with it may be even more interesting.

(Here is the link to the survey- https://action.donaldjtrump.com/mainstream-media-accountability-survey/)

Trump’s survey, question 1: Do you believe that the mainstream media has reported unfairly on our movement?
First of all, what ‘movement’? The Republican Party is one of the two dominant parties in the US, and has been for a long time. Calling Trump’s regime a movement suggests to me that Trump’s version of the Republican Party is not a continuation of that party and what it has represented in the past. Ok, but it is not the job of mainstream media to promote or defend either/any party’s platform. That is the job of the party.
It has always been the job of the free press to not just report on what politicians are doing, but to analyze, criticize, and provide context, other perspectives, and additional supporting or conflicting information. There is no single ‘mainstream media’, and media sources do cover Trump’s regime differently, so when they mostly agree in their analysis, that may be a sign that they have been doing their homework and have enough facts to back up their analyses. If their facts are incomplete or wrong, the solution is to provide more, better facts, using good data that can be independently verified.

Questions 2, 3, 4, 6, 7: Do you trust MSNBC to report fairly on Trump’s presidency? Do you trust CNN to report fairly on Trump’s presidency? Do you trust Fox News to report fairly on Trump’s presidency? Which television source do you primarily get your news from? Do you use a source not listed above?

First, does anyone really only get news from one source anymore? Ok, I don’t ‘trust’ Fox News’, because I’ve seen too many instances of horrible news coverage from them on a variety of stories. But I’d never rely on any one source for all my information on any major story. Also, I (like many people in my generation) do not get my news from television. In fact I do not own a television. Even if I did, I would not expect to get a full picture of news events from CNN or MSNBC or Fox News. That does not mean I need the government to attack these news companies for the way they cover the news.


As a modern news consumer, I use Facebook, Twitter, and Google to crosscheck information on any major story. Regardless of where I initially hear about new events and issues, I rely on Internet sources for my news. My sources include Reuters, Associated Press, BBC, The Guardian, New York Times, Washington Post, individual reporters on social media, politicians on social media, and experts from academia on social media and in person. There are also lots of other trustworthy sources available online for more in-depth analysis depending on the story. In my experience, no one source is sufficient to get a clear, accurate, and reasonably picture of any story.

When a new story pops up, I find the twitter hashtags that connect to that story, and follow those hashtags. When particular reporters or publications prove particularly informative and reliable, I follow those people on twitter. I also follow several major news agencies on facebook, so I see major news reports while browsing my social media. And, if I find that I need more background to understand the events I am seeing reports about, I use Google to find more information, preferably crosschecking all new information as I go along. I also am always reading and learning as much as I can about stuff, so I have sufficient background to understand the stories on the news.

Questions 5 and 9: On which issues does the mainstream media do the worst job of representing Republicans? (Select as many that apply.)** Do you trust the mainstream media to tell the truth about the Republican Party’s positions and actions?
(*wincing at the bad grammar in question 5*)
I am not sure the Republicans are all on the same page about what the Republican Party’s positions are. The actions of Trump’s regime so far seem to support a sort of Republican-flavored libertarian position of limited government, mixed with crony-capitalism and curtailed Constitutional rights for anyone who disagrees with the regime. But I’m not sure. So far the Trump regime really looks fascist and disturbingly corrupt, and I do not trust the propaganda coming from the White House to accurately reflect the actual agenda of our current ruling party.
As far as Republicans more generally, and I’ll get into this more in later questions, I really hope there is dissension within the party and that there are many perspectives and interests subsumed under the Republican umbrella, because that means we still are looking at a democratic party system.

Question 10: Do you believe that the mainstream media does not do their due diligence fact-checking before publishing stories on the Trump administration?
I’ve had my complaints in the past about the mainstream media not fact-checking before publishing stories, especially after domestic terrorist attacks. But I’ve been impressed with how major media companies have acknowledged the need to be more careful about checking their facts over the past year or so. I still always cross-check everything I can, and I think a lot of younger news consumers do the same. I suspect that many media companies are aware that the Internet generations know how to cross-check news stories, and perhaps we are part of why the news is becoming more reliable.


I think the Trump administration is doing its best to limit access to facts and information, in an attempt to control the flow of information to the public. Many regimes throughout history have tried to control information like this, because knowledge is power, after all. So, sometimes the media is working with limited information where the current administration is concerned. They may have plenty of propaganda to work with, but propaganda is not the same as facts.

Also, I suspect, by the way, that while the Trump administration seems to be naive or uneducated when it comes to facts about science, international relations, history, and global cultures, this is just a facade. I don’t think there are as many unintended, unfortunate consequences to Trump’s actions as the media seems to suggest, because those unfortunate (and very real) consequences were intended and serve a longer-term purpose we have yet to be fully informed about.

 See Part 2 (coming soon) for the second half of my survey responses.
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Ravenmount Media Challenge 2017

Do you like a good annual challenge? Here’s a new one I put together for 2017. It has 3 sections, for books, music, and film.

Books (20 books)- Read …

  1. At least 2 books from a murder mystery series that is new to you.
  2. A book published since 2005 in at least 3 of the following genres- science fiction, fantasy, romance/romantic literary fiction, mystery/suspense, horror, Western
  3. A YA trilogy in any genre.
  4. A book translated from French, German, Italian, or Portuguese.
  5. A book by an African author.
  6. A book by a South American or Mexican author.
  7. A book written by someone from your home state.
  8. A book about someone who died within the past 5 years.
  9. A book about climate.
  10. A book about space.
  11. A book about a journey.
  12. A book about an ecosystem.
  13. A book about trains.
  14. A book about music or art.
  15. Three classics you have not read yet.

Music (20 albums)

  1. Listen to an album of jazz released since 2000.
  2. Listen to 3 albums of classical music that are unfamiliar to you.
  3. Listen to a rock album released prior to 1995.
  4. Listen to a rock album released by a currently touring band.
  5. Listen to a country album released prior to 1995.
  6. Listen to a country album released within the past 2 years.
  7. Listen to albums by 3 different all-female acts.
  8. Listen to 3 albums by a single songwriter that span more than 5 years.
  9. Listen to an album that was one of your favorites when you were in high school.
  10. Pick 5 current acts you are not yet familiar with and listen to an album from each of them. (for ideas, use Spotify’s Discovery feature, Amazon recommendations, Youtube recommendations, etc., or a rack at a music store)

Film (30 films)

  1. Pick 5 actors who have been in multiple films. Find 2 films for each actor that you have not watched yet, and watch them.
  2. Watch a Western.
  3. Watch a comedy from 1950-1979.
  4. Watch a ‘made for TV’ movie.
  5. Watch 5 movies recommended to you by strangers.
  6. Watch 5 movies recommended to you by family members.
  7. Watch 3 documentary films on science topics.
  8. Watch a history film.
  9. Watch a subtitled foreign film.
  10. Watch 2 films from before 1950.
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Reading Atlas Shrugged (Again)

With the election of a highly controversial man of the people/con-man for President of the United States, and the serious problems this election brought to the forefront, many of my friends have been curious about Ayn Rand and her writing. So, over the next year I am doing a new reading project, reading Atlas Shrugged again, but just a few pages a day,  and posting analysis and reflection on this blog. If you want to join in the fun, I’ll be reading the first 10 pages of Atlas Shrugged for January 1st, and will be posting my first blog update for this project then. Grab yourself a copy of Atlas Shrugged, and a notebook to jot down your reactions, and dive in. Read as fast or as slow as you wish, but I’ll stick to 10-15 pages per day for my analysis posts. When we finish this book (my copy is ~1080 pages long, so it will take about 3-4 months at this rate) I’ll pick another book by a different author and keep going.

Many people who have not finished their first reading of Atlas Shrugged are wary of being indoctrinated, and many people do seem a bit giddy after reading this book, if they understood and liked it. In fact, most people I know who have read this novel either became obsessed with it or absolutely detested it. I like Atlas Shrugged as a sort of model that I can map onto real world events for a useful perspective. It is not a Bible, and one must study real world history, science, political science, psychology, economics, etc., to really make solid analysis of the real world using Rand’s philosophy. But Rand’s philosophy is a good, solid framework for building your own more comprehensive understanding of modern society.

I find the notion of people turning to Ayn Rand, or Leonard Peikoff, or any guru Objectivist to tell them what is right and wrong and how to think rather absurd. The whole point of the philosophy Rand wrote was that all of us have the responsibility to think for ourselves and make our own choices, and to accept the consequences of our choices. So, I am not setting myself up as a new guru by blogging my rereading of Atlas Shrugged; I am simply a book blogger blogging a spaced out reading of a long book. I’ll be reading about 10-15 pages a day, and bringing in other sources as needed. If you want to read along, I’ll include the first and last sentence of each segment in case your copy of this book is not the same edition, along with the page numbers in my edition. I’ll probably also keep a list of outside sources and suggested additional reading.

About me- I became an Objectivist in high school, reading Atlas Shrugged first, followed by all of Ayn Rand’s other books and essays, and all of Nathaniel Brandon’s books, and all the biographies about Rand that existed at that time. I reread Atlas Shrugged probably ten times since then. In high school I was interested in how real-world history compared to the world of Atlas Shrugged, so I read lots of history as well about the real people and events that clearly inspired bits of Rand’s novel. For my 3rd college degree I studied political and economic theory and public policy and administration, and worked as a teaching assistant for several different political science courses, so those years of intensive study will add a layer of my own perspective to this upcoming rereading of Atlas Shrugged.

Part of the challenge of reading Rand is always to see and appreciate the timeless philosophy without getting caught up in the timely and dated bits. I do consider myself an Objectivist, but I do not blindly accept any of Rand’s conclusions about anything, and I find that where Rand ventured into subjects she had not thoroughly studied, especially social sciences, she lacked factual knowledge. Just as one cannot use pure reason about why the world is flat to prove that it is, one cannot use pure reason to prove that one piece of art is better than another, or to develop accurate models for neuroscience or gender psychology. I do not expect a philosopher who was writing during the era when DNA was just being discovered to be psychic, and to know all the science information our species has developed since the 1950’s, when Atlas Shrugged was published.

 

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The Apache Wars: An Interesting New Glimpse at Frontier Adventure

Book Review:  The Apache Wars: The Hunt for Geronimo, the Apache Kid, and the Captive Boy Who Started the Longest War in American History  by Paul Andrew Hutton (published May 2016)

As a semiprofessional nerd and independent academic, I am always looking for readable history books that I can not only enjoy, but also pass on and recommend to my friends who do not have quite the interest and background I have. Many histories are dry and unreadable even for professionals in the field, and they tend to assume the reader knows quite a lot about the context within which their historical events take place. The Apache Wars is an exception, as a satisfying new tale of Wild West adventure, with Indians and cowboys, and a well-rounded picture of the real people involved in the conflict between the Apaches and the White settlers. I especially liked the bits about the female warrior Lozen, a character I had never heard of in any school account of the West. War stories tend to neglect the women and focus only on the actions of the men involved, but this book included more women than usual, and treated women and ‘minorities’ rather fairly.
My one complaint is that this book needed more supplementary information, especially maps. There is a section of black and white photographs, which is nice, but I would have found the story easier to follow if there had been maps of the relevant regions included alongside the text. More images in general would have been nice, too. 424 pages of solid text is not impossible to read, and this book is well written, but Hutton packs a lot of information into those 424 pages, enough that it felt a bit too heavy and dense after a while. A few images of old photos, old newspaper items, diagrams of camps/forts/etc. would have broken up the text enough to make it that much easier to digest.

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Album of the Evening- Stages

Album of the Evening- Stages by Josh Groban

The longer I blog about music, the less I seem to tolerate albums in the classical/pop crossover subgenre that all include the same songs. I suppose if you are a man singing baritone or tenor and covering musical theater and recognizable classical and traditional songs, including all the same songs as everyone else serves as a sort of resume or CV that allows people to compare you to other singers when considering who to hire to sing the anthem at a baseball game, or to sing “You Raise Me Up” at a wedding.

Well, Josh Groban started out with all the usual songs, but he broke away from those predictable songs fairly early, and I always look forward to hearing what music he’s selected for his new albums. Stages is all covers, and all musical theater songs, and there are other singers in this subgenre who have recorded some of them, but he’s included some less common songs, too. Every classically trained pop singer seems to have to put out a version of “Bring Him Home”, “All I Ask of You”, “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, and “Anthem”. Not everyone has recorded a version of “Finishing the Hat”, “Old Devil Moon”, or “Try to Remember”. The deluxe version of this album has more of these less common songs, too.

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Album of the Evening- Hushabye

Album of the Evening – Hushabye, by Hayley Westenra

I had enough high energy evening music for a while, at least enough that tonight’s album is a lullaby collection by one of the women whose voice I occasionally wish I could match. (I still prefer to sing alto, so her soprano range, while gorgeous, is not really ‘me’.)  I fantasize about wandering the world collecting lullabies, a form of song often neglected by song-collectors as not important enough or not the sort of songs a respectable music historian should care about. But, just like dialects and other cultural traits, the songs we think of as lullabies have histories and can be traced to their origins with enough research. Anyway, this album has several more interesting ones, alongside some of the more common tunes that Americans and many Europeans think of when they think “lullaby”.

Links:   Spotify   —   Amazon.com  —

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Album of the Evening- Mercy Street

Album of the Evening- Mercy Street, by Keith Harkin

Ok, maybe this is not the best album to wind down and fall asleep to. Keith Harkin, who has been one of the principal singers in Celtic Thunder for about a decade, is more of a classic rock and country sort of guy, it seems, when he’s not on the Celtic Thunder stage. The second track on this album reminds me of Rascal Flatts, a lot. So imagine that sort of energy, and yeah, this is not music I’m falling asleep listening to. Oh well. Keith announced this week that he will be stepping away from Celtic Thunder (stepping away, not leaving- no one leaves Celtic Thunder permanently short of death, really) and focusing on his solo career following his upcoming wedding. So, it seemed a good night to put on his latest solo album, which came out this year.   

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Book Review: Japanese Woodblock Print Workshop

23464090I’m used to printmaking books for kids, and printmaking books for folks who, like myself, have the equivalent of an art degree in printmaking, but rarely do books successfully span the full range of printmakers, from novices and hobbyists to professional artists and everyone in between. This new printmaking book is great for folks wanting to buy or make all the authentic tools to do Japanese traditional woodblock printing. And, for people with less money or time to spend on learning this form of printmaking, the author, April Vollmer, provides a lot of great information that can be easily applied to using cheaper materials, and even to doing decidedly non-traditional printmaking of a sort that kids and new printmakers could easily master.

For artists who just want to add a new technique or a different perspective to their own established methods, this book offers lots of ideas, and a lot of color images of the artist’s finished work to inspire her readers to come up with their own original pieces. Reading this book felt a lot like being in a graduate printmaking master-class, a particularly fun master-class where I might actually use the stuff I learned, and could see how what I was learning could inspire new artwork, even without having to go out and buy a lot of new art supplies.

The book itself is very nice. The text is readable, the instructions are well illustrated, and the examples of the author’s finished artwork make this a fun book to browse even when one is not looking to read or try out the techniques. My copy, which I received free through the publisher’s Blogging for Books program, is hardbound and has a lovely feel to it, which seems appropriate considering the elegance of the traditional Japanese craft and techniques this book is inspired by. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in printmaking.

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Album of the Evening- Phone Power

Album of the Evening- They Might Be Giants, Phone Power

I feel old when I think about how long ago the album Flood was released, that has most of the songs I really know from They Might Be Giants. But, I am trying to branch out and listen to other albums lately. Some of this band’s albums are clearly geared towards small children and don’t really appeal to me, but their most recent album, which came out this year, is a bit more like the sort of songs on Flood. I particularly love the song “I Am Alone”, a sort of creepy take on seeing yourself in a 3-part mirrors, where maybe your reflection (or one of them) is not just a reflection. I still like Flood best, but maybe some of what I like so much about that album is that I have spent about 2 decades listening to those songs.

They Might Be Giants has Phone Power available through their website as a pay-what-you-can deal, where fans can download the album for however much they want to pay. And, of course, it also is available to listen to on spotify, but at least as far as I could see this evening, this new TMBG album is not available in a physical CD via amazon.com yet.

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